Crepers Quarterly: London, Paris & Beyond (Continued)
Now it was time to go to Paris. Don't forget to visit our previous France sections for more full crapping venue reviews. While most of our accounts are about public facilities, we have included some details about some hotels too.
Upon arrival at Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) you begin your French adventure. And an adventure it is, even for someone who has been there 10 times like yours truly. The first thing you will learn about France is that they do everything differently. Just try typing on a French computer keyboard! There are a lot of tricks to Paris and France in general. One of the most important things you should know is that restrooms are typically not free as we are used to in the USA. Most cafes, etc. require you to be a patron or they will charge some fee to use the restroom. My best advice is be prepared to stop at cafes and have a cup of coffee, glass of wine, etc. relax, then go as needed. Go as much as possible in your hotel room and don't count on any help from the local establishments in an emergency. Be prepared to pay. However, we have found some reasonable alternatives and other tips and tricks. Read on.
The first thing you should know about CDG is that it is also called Roissy. this is important because all of the trains and busses to and from the airport to the city are called Roissy. But more about that in a moment.
Dumbass that I am didn't take a photo of the toilets here because I thought (wrongly) that I already had a few from my trip last year. I probably thought the same thing last year too. Regardless, the toilets are typical institutional stalls of various configuration. Nothing special. However, try to find restrooms in the gate areas before exiting through Customs & Immigration. They are more available and easily found. Once you pass to the outside ring, it becomes more difficult to find the facilities. As mentioned before, they are nothing special and will provide a good opportunity to go before you attempt to interface with the French rail system.
A couple of tips about getting to and from the airport and the city center before we move on. To and from CDG, I suggest taking the Roissy Train (also called the RER B)instead of the bus. Simply, the bus will sit in a ton of traffic and the train won't. From CDG to Paris center will cost about €7.50. BTW, the Euro is roughly equal to the dollar. This train will take you to Paris Gare du Nord train station (Paris has six train stations). It is important to note that at this station, you must exit the train, go through a turnstile, and go down stairs to catch the train that continues on to the city center. You do not need a new ticket for this. But make sure to hold on to yours as you will be required to use it to get in AND OUT of various turnstiles along the way. Or you can catch the Metro to other parts. I point this out because on the Metro/RER map, it appears as if the train goes straight through without a stop or change. From Orly, the bus or train works fine and seemed less confusing to me.
Once you are at your Metro stop of choice, you can purchase one of the Metro passes they have. If you are going to be there for a few days, I suggest the Paris Visite card which allows you to have unlimited on/offs for the number of days you have purchased. Here is a link to the Paris train/Metro web site at www.ratp.fr which has a lot of good information, route maps and even listings for bars and restaurants. There are no crapping opportunities on these trains and I won't even go into the station toilets to take a picture. Avoid at all costs. You will be fighting with the gypsies, Algerian immigrants and other assorted characters who make the Metro stations their home.
I will touch on my first hotel for a brief moment. It was called the Moderne St. Germain. An excellent location on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter but this place made the pink and gray Miami Vice looking furniture and fittings look dull. It was clean and got the job done but their idea of cable television was related to how a signal entered the back of the tv and not how we think of 150 channels. Expect 5 channels in French, none of them CNN. Not that I was watching much television or in the room much at all. Also the phone was circa 1960. It was very "modern". I won't stay there again. I didn't even take a photo.
Hotel tip for Paris. There is a wide margin in defining three stars when it comes to French hotels. Try to find recommendations from friends or even try booking an apartment is you are staying for at least 7 days. There are many available online. My advice, stick to chains like Best Western and/or pay a little extra for a sure thing. Otherwise, you run the risk of staying at the equivalent of a low end motel that has been under renovations since 1970.
One of my favorite cafes in Paris is the Le Depart St. Michel just on the left bank at the St. Michel Metro stop. I thought I got a shot of this one too but I must have been really drunk because I can't find it. Well, next time. Clearly, I don't spend much of my time in Paris completely sober.
This friendly and convenient cafe has good food and cold beer and is not a bad place to sit and hang out day or night. For the toilet, you must go down a spiral staircase. The bathroom has two stalls and the typical urinals and sink area. Fairly clean and normal. Just don't mind the window in the door that lets the female patrons check out what's going on as they pass by on the way to their bathroom.
(Note: If you can't stand cigarette smoke, don't go to France. Everybody smokes like a fiend there and there is no escape from it. I typically bring clothes and just throw them away as the trip progresses. If not, they will stink like smoke forever and doing laundry in Paris is too big of a pain/expense. Just go to the GAP and buy new clothes as needed).
One of the places you must see in Paris is the Louvre (unless they are on strike). I have been to the Louvre many times before but last year it was closed due to a strike. This year I went back and scouted the situation and there are some good tips and tricks.
First, the Louvre has great access to bathrooms. Most people don't realize it, but the main reception area under the famous I.M. Pei designed pyramid is free to enter and houses a good, free place to go, even if you are not going to enter the exhibits.
In the Richelieu wing of the museum, there is the public toilet. It has a few stalls but don't be surprised if they are overrun by Chinese tourists who are very slow pissers and spend the entire time hocking loogies. Your best bet here is early in the day before the crowds start. The place is relatively clean considering the amount of use it gets and privacy is ok.
Entrance to the museum is €7.50 and tickets are good all day so you can come and go as you please. I won't spend a lot of time telling you how incredible the Louvre really is. The Mona Lisa is the most overrated thing in the whole place. Make sure to check out Hamurabi's Code (you know, the first written law. An eye for an eye and all that), the Greek and Roman statues (everything you studied in art history class) and the large format paintings.
If you enter the exhibit area of the museum, there will be numerous pit stops along the way and are marked on your map. The catch is that they will close certain areas of the museum from time to time so you may get blocked from a facility shown on the map. However, these remote pit stops can be your best bet for availability and privacy. All of the facilities vary in terms of their design and facilities but most seemed to offer full walls and doors, good privacy and cleanliness.
It was also my impression that the entire facility including restrooms were very handicrapping accessible. You can check their web site www.louvre.fr for layouts, schedules and other information.
The next stop on this year's adventure was the Musee d' Orsay, home to many of the famous impressionists and their paintings and sculptures. This museum, housed in a beautifully converted former train station, couldn't be more different than the Louvre. It covers the years 1848 to 1914. This is home to many famous works of art by Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and many more. This place even has Whistler's Mother.
This spectacular facility offers a number of good crapping opportunities. Like all famous sites in Paris, this place can get crowded and be tough in emergencies. However, skip the toilets at the main entrance (although there is nothing wrong with them) and head to the back toilets or the ones located on the upper floors. The facilities will be a little smaller, offering fewer stalls, but will likely be less crowded.
Each facility is completely different in design but all seemed normal with full doors, relative cleanliness and privacy. Some will require a bit of stair climbing to reach. Handicrapping seems to be reasonable but may be easier in the main facilities up front. There are plenty of elevators to help negotiate any stair cases for the exhibits themselves. The museum will help any who need it. One note, the toilets close 15 minutes BEFORE the museum starts to close at 5:30. Check online for exact schedules, etc.
As of now, their web site www.musee-orsay.fr seems to be down but keep checking.
Remember, there is a whole France section that has much more on Paris and beyond. Well, I made one more stop in France worth mentioning. I went skiing in a famous resort called Courchevel in the French Alps.
Centered in an area containing Chamonix, Mount Blanc, Albertville, Geneva and Grenoble, this exciting ski resort town is just an hour from Lyon on the Swiss and Italian borders. Home to some Olympic events and some great skiing, there is one really good place to go when you are there. It happens to be a restaurant at the base of the trails. It has good food and is very comfortable.
The toilets are unisex. The sinks are part of a big common area with four stalls (two on each side). This means that any females you are with will be watching you. Luckily, the stalls offer real walls and full doors for better privacy than first anticipated. Considering how many people are on the slopes, the facility was relatively uncrowded and stalls were easily available. The best part is that the toilets are free and the people there may not realize if you were a customer or not.
The toilets were surprisingly clean considering the amount of usage (must be the Swiss influence) and handicrapping would be reasonable. A good overall place to go.
So, that's a look at Europe for Winter of 2003. If you have any information to add to what we have, please do not hesitate to email us. We hope you have enjoyed this trip as much as I did and we hope that some of this information is helpful.
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